Countdown to the Women's Basketball season: The seniors on leadership
As practice begins for their final season, it is up to the four seniors to lead the women's basketball team on and off the court. Though their experiences range from one to four years in the Longhorn program, these four senior guards (Tamra Cobbins, Daria Mieloszynska, Nina Norman and Coco Reed) are ready to make up for the loss of six key players - three of them starters - who graduated from last year's team.
And, the first mission of the four guards is to serve as leaders, on and off the court, to a relatively young team with seven freshman and help the team get ready for a long, demanding season.
"Because we lost [so many] seniors last year, everyone has become more responsible for the team," noted 6-2 Mieloszynska. "[The youthfulness of our team] is a good thing because there is a new positive energy and attitude, and everyone is excited. But, because it is such a young team, we seniors have to really step up and lead."
For Mielosyznska, being thrust into a leadership role comes just a year after she joined the Longhorn program as a junior college transfer from Illinois Central College. Because of this, Mieloszynska is able to better understand what the freshmen are experiencing.
"Last year I expected people to lead me, to show me how things are done, but now I cannot allow myself to make mistakes because there are people looking up to me," sad Mieloszynska.
In addition, 5-11 guard Coco Reed, a fifth year senior who took a medical redshirt her true freshman year, understands her role as the most experienced senior.
"I'm definitely going to have to be THE leader of this team and get everybody going, day in and day out, by motivating my teammates to be the best they can be because I've been here longer than anyone," said Reed. "I have more experience and I know what it takes to get the job done, so I'm going to try to give those seven newcomers the best knowledge and advice I have to offer."
Aside from goals to win the Big 12 Conference title and national championship, the seniors also have their own plans for their final year on the Forty Acres. For some, it's about finishing their career strong.
"I want to go out this year knowing that I gave it everything that I had and leave it all out on the floor. I'm hoping to go out with a bang, while at the same time have fun, work hard, and not having any regrets when it all ends," said 5-4 guard Tamra Cobbins.
And for others, it's about passing down the tradition of success under head coach Jody Conradt's guidance.
"I'm trying to improve as a player and do anything and everything I can to ensure that these seven freshmen will carry out the legacy of Texas Basketball," said Reed.
After an unexpectedly early exit in the second round from last year's NCAA tournament, the seniors have not forgotten the disappointment from their close two-point (71-69) loss to Georgia.
"When you win games, you eventually forget the feeling, but the games you lose are the one you remember the most and are the memories which haunt you," said Mieloszynska.
With an upcoming schedule that includes such powerhouses as Tennessee, Duke, Rutgers and Connecticut, and two meetings with national champion Baylor, the seniors are determined to learn from last year's mistakes.
"We take [the game against Georgia] as motivation to play well for the whole season," noted Norman, who is one of UT's two returning starters this year along with junior All-American Tiffany Jackson. "We can't turn our games on and off like last year; we played really hard at some points, and then we didn't play hard at other times when we didn't push ourselves. That's the lesson I want to pass down. If we are going to be successful, we have to always play like we want it."
Cobbins, Norman and Reed are the only players left from the Longhorns team that made a run to the 2003 NCAA Final Four semifinals; that accomplishment took place their freshman year.
"Once you win a championship and have experienced much success, it's in your blood. We're hungry for another Big 12 title and making a deep run into the NCAA Tournament," Cobbins stated. "Now, it's about getting the rest of the team on the same page as us because we know how it feels to be so close to, yet lose, something you work so hard for."
As the oldest members of the 2005-06 Longhorn club, these seniors also are expected to help the freshmen with their basketball transition to the college level.
Starting with informal practices and pickup games during the summer that included everyone (except for freshman Erika Arriaran who was playing for the USA Basketball U-19 National Team and Mieloszynska, who returned to Poland for a visit), the veterans were able to acquaint themselves with the freshmen and get a head start on building some chemistry.
Since they arrived on campus, the seniors have welcomed the seven newcomers with open arms.
"With so many freshmen, it's going to be hard adjusting to so many new personalities and playing styles, but I love them and they're doing great so it's not as hard as I thought it would be," said Cobbins.
"The mentality we felt as a team at the end of last year is over with because [the freshmen] weren't there to experience the disappointment we felt. Now it's a fresh start," added Norman.
And though there may be lots to teach, the seniors are enjoying their roles as leaders in the game of basketball.
"There's a lot of teaching going on, but they're moving on faster than I expected. So far, they're doing a great job with a positive attitude and a good work ethic," Reed stated.
With official practices starting in five days - on Friday, October 14 - the seniors are ready to head into the season.
And, when everything finally comes together, as Norman states, "it [the team] is going to really really be something fun to watch!"